Renowned and respected in his own time, but outside of the critical fraternity Jules Dassin is teetering on being forgotten in ours. Between Arrow Films, Eureka and now the BFI, the pinnacle of the UK home video market are doing their very best to bring him back into relevance outside the uniformly acclaimed Rififi. Night and The City is the latest and possibly best part of this joint effort.
Richard Widmark stars as Harry Fabian – a tout for a local club and a hopeless dreamer forever chasing the next fortune making opportunity, the latest of which sees him insidiously collaborate the traditionalist Father of an influential mobster (Kristo (Herbert Lom)) to corner London’s Wrestling market. Getting there won’t be easy with his fellow residents of the London underbelly exhausted with his almost daily visit asking for money in his latest “can’t fail” scheme. Boss Philip Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan) Both belittles and takes pity on Fabian, stating that he’ll double it if he can raise £200 making this latest project a reality. Night and the City is incredible in its story density – even for a noir – as from this initial set up Fabian becomes centrepiece in a chess board of betrayal coming from every corner of London.
A sub-genre that operates through well-defined parameters, Dassin adopts a military-like precision that soars above petty contrivance. He achieves this through small details erecting a sense of identity to be marvelled at. Using the underworld as a community envelopes London with a massive personality filled full with yet more characters. There’s his co-workers at the club his touts for, the streets upon streets of vividly coloured characters and the score of people Fabian turns up on the door of begging for money, Night and the City’s founded upon layers of colour building a film that is a joy to spend time in.
Colour is nothing without the performances to back it up and with countless familiar faces from British stage and screen the film is in great hands. The aforementioned Sullivan, Lom and Widmark and rounded out by Googie Withers and noir mainstay Mike Mazurki. Widmark puts in remarkable companion to Pickup on South Street. In Fuller’s film, the sense of community was comparable but Widmark was the street-wise person that Harry Fabian dreamed of, in Dassin’s London Widmark is a naïve and aspirational man in unfamiliar waters, a man consumed by that very ambition. It’s a big performance but given the themes this is the only way his character could function.
Upon Fabian wronging the underworld, that precision in pulling together a multi-stranded narrative emerges. Other films that clean themselves up as neatly as this could be accused of overt contrivance, but here Dassin uses a deliberate storytelling inherited from Gerald Kersh’s original novel in illustrating the height of unpredictability born from this seedy underbelly. Just as Fabian (Widmark) coveted money to better himself that very same money becomes an instigator in shifting his home from a place of tolerance into a town out for his blood. This climactic definitiveness makes this self-evident, and if any plot threads sought ambiguity this would be a far shallower experience. Contrivance is Night and the City’s best friend.
On this BFI Blu-ray release, both American and British cuts are featured and both are a masterwork on every conceivable level save for the melodramatic scores by Benjamin Frankel and Franz Waxman. The extras are slim but that affords both versions of the film to co-exist and a 4K mastering that heightens the striking Chiaroscuro cinematography. Hyperbole has no place when discussing Night and the City, it is one of The Great British noir and a towering achievement of 1950s cinema.
- Brand new 4K restoration of the US version and 2k restoration of the previously unseen British version
- Original theatrical trailer
- US version audio commentary by Paul Duncan
- UK version audio commentary by Adrian Martin
- Richard Widmark Interviewed by Adrian Wootton at the National Film Theatre (2002, 72 mins): extensive interview filmed onstage
- The Guardian Lecture: Jules Dassin Interviewed by Alexander Walker(1981, 52 mins, audio with stills): a far-reaching onstage discussion
- Illustrated booklet with extensive credits and newly commissioned essays
USA | 1950 | black and white | English language, with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles | 96 minutes | BD50 | 1080p | 24fps | Original aspect ratio 1.33:1 | PCM mono audio (48k/16-bit) | Cert PG (contains mild violence) | Region B Blu-ray
NIGHT AND THE CITY IS OUT NOW ON BFI BLU-RAY